Day 11: Genesis 34-36; family dysfunction…

Every family has their dysfunction…

We talked about it before with Abraham and Issac, and it appears once again with Jacob.  When we read a story like that of Genesis 34, we can see very clearly that this family of Jacob, or Israel, really wasn’t the perfect group of God followers that we sometimes make them out to be.  I sometimes even wonder if God was looking down on them thinking “really guys?  You’re going to act like that?”  I’d be willing to bet that sometimes God looks at us the same way.

However, I think also this that this, as well as the somewhat crazy things that Abraham and Issac did, illustrate a really major point about God:  Unconditional Love… and perhaps even Unconditional Election.  You see, God chose Abraham (and thus Issac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel).  There was nothing that any of these people did that made them more worthy than any other people.  God chose them to be the vehicle through which the whole world would be blessed.  His covenant with them did  not say that the whole thing was off if they didn’t act perfectly, or serve Him in a way other than what He prescribed.  His choosing them was unconditional… His Love for them, also Unconditional.  No matter how many times they screwed up… and there was and will be a lot of them, God still loved them, even to the point of punishing them with exile.  Like the covenant, and the vision of Abraham where it is God alone who passes between the animal pieces signifying that really only God will truly be able to hold up His end of the covenant, God is true to His word, His choice, and His Love for His chosen people.

This is true with us as well.  As people of the Reformed Church, one of our tenants is “Unconditional Election.”  This is often a major sticking point for people because of the word “election” and the associated (and confusing) topic of predestination.  While we aren’t going to get into that right now, the point of Unconditional Election is truly that God chooses us through no merit of our own.  It isn’t anything that we’ve done, it is all God.  Ephesians 2:4-6 speaks directly to this: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—”  We too are members of this Covenant relationship; a people chosen by God through the blood of Jesus Christ.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:8-10.

P.S. a bit of Trivia for you:  One of the more famous Advent/Christmas verses finds its name first in Genesis 35:19… calling the area of the town of Bethlehem “Ephrath.”  This is echoed in one of the prophesies of the coming Messiah, the fulfillment of the covenant in Micah 5:2  “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days….”



Day 10: Genesis 31-33; Family Reunion

I guess I’m kind of at a loss as to what to write about this story of Jacob’s return home.  I can’t imagine what must have been going through Jacob’s mind as he was on his way back to his family.  Seeing my brother after almost 20 years would be nerve racking… knowing that I stole everything from our father including his blessing and I had to face up to that… total anxiety meltdown.

Yet God reassures Jacob many times.  God is the one who tells Jacob to go home.  Angels are also sent to Jacob, likely to comfort him.  Laban is cautioned by God to have care in how he speaks to Jacob.  Finally, Jacob meets God “face to face” and wrestles with Him.  God blesses Jacob and gives him a new name, Israel.

We don’t necessarily understand the reasoning for the name change in our culture.  We’ve seen this already with Abraham, and again we see it with Jacob.  In the Hebrew culture, knowing someone’s name meant many significant things from a relational and cultural aspect.  Culturally, when someone knows the name of another, it meant that on some level you have power over them… or in their lives.  Yes, I know it sounds weird  but this isn’t entirely far fetched.  Think about some of your working relationships or your relationships with other people.  For a long time in Western culture there has been a high emphasis on proper manners when it comes to addressing other people, especially when it comes to kids and adults.  For me, the adults in my life were always  Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so.  I was to always address adults in this way unless they told me otherwise.  And when I was given permission to address them by their first name, it signified a fundamental change in our relationship.  I was now a peer, a friend, not someone lower than them.  I was more of an equal and even thought that I could talk with them on an equal playing field, offering advice and they would actually listen to me.

It is that change in relationship that is also significant.  Knowing the name of someone in Hebrew culture also meant, in a very significant way, that you knew them in a more intimate way.  This is why Jacob wants to know the name of the person that he is wrestling with.  So when God changes Jacob’s name, or Abram’s for that matter, it is God’s way of saying “I truly know you, this is who you are,” which makes sense considering God knows all of us way better than we could ever know ourselves.

Jacob, now Israel, is home now.  God has once again kept His promise to Israel providing for him abundantly in his exile, and being faithful to him throughout the years.  God’s continues to be faithful also to the covenant He has made with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.  And it seems as though Jacob is honoring his vow to God to honor Him with the setting up of an alter in his new dwelling place, naming it “El-Elohe-Israel” or “God is the God of Israel.”



Day 9: Genesis 29-30; Jacob in exile

At the end of our reading yesterday, Jacob had a vision.  In this vision God speaks to Jacob reassuring him of the covenant made with Abraham and Issac and promising to him that one day Jacob would return to the land.  I think his response to this dream is interesting…

“So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.  He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.  Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,  so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,  and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”  -Genesis 28:18-22

An icon depicting Jacob's dream.

An icon depicting Jacob’s dream.

In our reading today we find Jacob in exile, and God still very much with him.  Exile is really one of the worst punishments in my opinion.  Being forced to live without anything or anyone that you once found familiar would be awful.  Yet God promises to be with Jacob and Jacob vows to honor God if God keeps His side of the covenant.

So what do we see?  God keeping His promise… and Jacob becoming abundantly wealthy.  If there were a good version of being exiled from your family… this is it.  We see that God’s presence isn’t limited to a specific time or place, but rather that God is present with Jacob, and us as well, anywhere that we go!  This theme, God’s omnipresence, is one that is played out time and again in Israel’s history, from Jacob and Joseph to Isaiah and Ezekiel, Egypt to Babylon, in good times and in bad, in the promised land or in exile… God is always present, always working, always there for His people.



Day 8: Genesis 26-28; The adventures of Issac and Rebekah

You know the saying “It runs in the family?”  Well God’s promise to Abraham definitely runs in the family.  God says right away that Issac is included in the blessing of Abraham, though the words “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”  It almost seems as if God isn’t really all into blessing Issac, but is going to do it anyway because his father is Abraham.  This is more or less a comment on things that perplex me when I read the Bible.  Later we see God fulfilling His promise to Abraham through Issac and on to Jacob, the son of Issac as well.  Whether or not God liked Abraham more than Issac is a moot point really, but when things like that crop up in the Bible, or maybe just in my mind, I tend to wonder aloud… or I guess in writing.

Apparently deception is one of those things that runs in the family of Abraham as well.  Or perhaps it is lack of trust.  Either way… I think we can all relate a little bit to the desire to take things into our own hands.  Issac does the same thing his father does, to the same person even.  By the grace of God, Abimelech is gracious to Issac and his family, no sin is committed, and they live in relative peace together with the exception of those few wells that the herdsmen fight over.

We move in the Genesis story from Issac on to Jacob (and his brother Esau) in this passage.  I think that sometimes Jacob gets a bad rap for being deceitful and conniving  stealing the birthright and the blessing from his brother Esau.  While I don’t necessarily think that God would applaud the way that this happens, the prophecy given to Rebekah when she was pregnant is coming true in these instances.  Jacob is the blessed one, and he will rule over his older brother.  This much is a fact, even if it doesn’t come to fruition until many hundreds of years later.

I think one interesting thing to note here is the trouble the Esau’s wives cause the family.  He takes wives from the people of Canaan  something that God did not want Abraham to do for Issac, and neither for Jacob.  But Esau goes ahead and does it anyway “and they they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.”  It seems as though following God is always the better route, even if it isn’t the easiest.

In any case here, it is important to note as we continue to look at the family of Abraham that, though they don’t always trust God, take things into their own hands, steal, lie, and manipulate circumstances (which is not only true of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, but is entirely true of the whole nation of Israel), God still uses them, blesses them, and maintains His covenant with them.  It really is the ultimate example of how God is continually at work int he lives of people, constantly working through bad circumstances to bring about His will and ultimately the blessing of the entire world through Jesus.



Day 7: Genesis 24-25; Issac, Rebekah, and more faithfulness from God

I wonder what it would be like to be Rebekah in this story.  Honestly for us, the cultural differences alone make some of this story hard to understand.  If someone were to come up to me and tell me a story like Abraham’s servant told Rebekah and her family, I’d probably laugh them out of the house with a resounding “yeah right!”  The culture back then was one of trust, and they believed in the power of words over and above that of suspicion and doubt that have become staples of our culture.

Can you imagine, going out to do your daily chore of getting water from the well, meeting this random man.  He likely looked a bit disheveled, tired and dirty from a long journey.  Now days, that alone would be enough to keep us away and make us nervous.  Yet Rebekah kindly allows the man a drink from her water and then gets water for his camels as well.  Before she can blink an eye, this man is putting expensive and lavish bracelets on her wrists and a gold ring in her nose.  Awkward…

Then he goes on to tell her this crazy story about this journey, and how God has blessed him because of the nice things that she did.  And now he wants her to go back with him to marry this guy shes never met, who technically is her second cousin?  Yeah… right…

Doesn’t compute to us.  Marrying in the family to people we haven’t even met.  Yet even here we see God’s providence and faithfulness on a journey with circumstances that really can only be God’s handiwork.  Everything happened just as Abraham and his servant pray for.  Abraham remained faithful to God be not seeking a wife for his son from the Canaanite women, and God is faithful to Abraham in providing a wife for his son.  It all may seem like a lot to come together, but then again the man to whom Rebekah will be married was born to a women of 90 years.  “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”



Day 6: Genesis 20-23; Abraham, Issac, and Faithfulness

There is an old saying that “those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”  While I don’t necessarily know if Abraham was forgetful or was just deceitful, but it seems as though even here he still struggling in this strange up and down of trust and mistrust of God.  He deceives Abimelech which almost costs the man his life, and a few years later he willingly offers up his only son as a sacrifice in obedience to God.  I often think that we tend to uphold important people in the Bible like Abraham and show the way that they followed God completely and willingly. We use them as an example of how we should be living.  However, we don’t always look at the things with which they struggled, the issues of things like trusting God.  While these things don’t necessarily teach well when it comes to upholding right living, they do make them more human, more like our own sinful self.  And yet God uses them for great things!  Abraham struggles to trust God fully at times, and yet God still uses him to be a blessing for all the nations.  How much more can God use us?  Are we open to it?

Also today we see the fulfillment and extension of the covenant.  Issac is born and God says that the blessing of Abraham will be passed on to him, not Ishmael.  To this birth, Sarah laughs.  Have you ever gotten to the end of something you were doing where everything came together perfectly, just at the right time, in a way that you would have never seen or thought possible?  I’ve been there… and sometimes I just sit back and laugh.  For all the planning, struggling, and working that I do, everything is still in God’s hands and God will handle it in God’s time, which is always perfect.

It is important too to remember the ways that God shows His faithfulness here.  First, God remembers Hagar and Ishmael, the cast-outs of Abraham’s family.  These two could have probably just disappeared into history without another word, but God is faithful to His promise and provides for them.  Some actually think that Ishmael is the father of the Arab world today.  This isn’t the place to speculate on that, but it would help to explain the continuing animosity in that region.

The other great showing of faithfulness from God is in His provision for Abraham and Issac.  Though he was completely willing, almost too willing it might seem, to sacrifice his son, God provides the sacrifice for him.  God guides them to the mountains of Moriah, also know as Mount Sinai, and there provides a lamb for the sacrifice.  If this sounds somewhat familiar, its because this is another type of foreshadowing.  This isn’t the last time that God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, and later when He does it again it will be in fulfillment of His Covenant promise with Abraham to bless all the nations through his family.  More specifically, Jesus is the the Lamb of God who dies as a sacrifice for our sins.



Day 5: Genesis 17-19; Promises, Covenants, and Faithfulness

It has been several years since the vision of the smoking fire pot and the confirmation of the covenant with the two halves of the animals.  I imagine that Abram, who is now Abraham, was wondering how exactly God was going to fulfill this promise that He made.  Then God comes and reconfirms the promise that He made and gives a sign for Abraham and his offspring to take as a sign of being part of the covenant.  I can’t say that this is necessarily the sign that I would have chosen, but despite that, this is one of the first things that God requires of His people in this covenant relationship.

Right now, in this covenant relationship God has promised to be Abraham’s God, promised to make him into a great nation, and promised the whole land of Canaan.

Abraham and his family is pledged to be God’s people, and now is told that he must be circumcised as a sign of being God’s people.

We see too that both Abraham and Sarai, now Sarah, laugh at the prospect of having a kid in their old age.  Clearly God knows this is happening… “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” He asks.  I wonder if this is something that rings true in our own lives as well.  I know that this is something that I have done in the past.  God you want me to go to seminary?  “HAHAHA!”  I certainly didn’t have the means to make this happen, nor did I feel that I was a good person for this job.  But here I am…  “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Is there something that God is calling you to in this new year?

This is an Icon depicting the story of the Three Visitors of Abraham.  It is called "The Holy Trinity."

This is an Icon depicting the story of the Three Visitors of Abraham. It is called “The Holy Trinity.”



Day 4: Genesis 12-16; Enter Abraham and the Covenant

If we could divide the book of Genesis up into parts, we would then consider chapter 12 to be the second part of the book of Genesis.  It could even be the third if you ask some.  N.T. Wright divides the Bible, or rather redemptive history into a “5 Act Play.”  You can read more about this on the blog “Dead Heroes Don’t Save“.  He (N.T. Wright) outlines it like this:

Act 1: Creation

Act 2: Fall

Act 3: Israel

Act 4: Jesus

Act 5: Church

(Act 6: Consummation, End of Time, God’s eternal Kingdom)??

In any case, this would be the the beginning of Act 3, the beginning of God’s working through the nation of Israel to bring about the redemption and restoration of the entire world through Jesus Christ, the true answer to the promise of God spoken in Genesis 12:3 ” in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Did anyone notice in the story of Genesis 14 the mention of Melchizedek?  He is somewhat of a mystery in the Bible, mentioned only a handful of times.  Yet he plays a very important role here, being “priest of God most high” and blessing Abram.  Did you notice too what he brought out when he blessed Abram?  Bread and wine.  This is largely considered the first time these two elements would be mentioned together.  In literature this is called foreshadowing… what do you suppose this small feast of blessing points forward towards?

Reading the beginning stories of Abraham, or Abram as he is called right now, it is interesting to see the dichotomy between Abram’s lack of faith and trust in God and the times in which he believes God.  He goes down to Egypt and pawns his wife off as his sister to save his own life.  This after being promised that he would be made into a great nation.  One would think that God would be preserving his life in order to fulfill this promise.  Yet Abram takes matters into his own hands.

Later on, Abram questions God and is again promised the same thing, and Abram believes God and we are told that it is “counted it to him as righteousness.”  Keep this in the back of your mind as you continue reading.  It must be genetic or something because it happens to Abram again, and his sons and their sons, and the whole nation of Israel time and time again.

Genesis 15 is the second time we see a formalizing of the covenant relationship between God and humanity.  We see it somewhat informally with Adam & Eve.  This is renewed and expanded upon with the blessing and promise to Noah after the flood.  This is the first time however, that this covenant relationship is made specifically in relation to a certain people or nation.  God has chosen Abram and his decedents who would become the nation of Israel to be the instrument through which God would work to bring about redemption and restoration.  Abram’s vision of the smoking firepot, the blazing torch, and the God’s passing through the two halves of the animals is a sign of the reality and truth of the covenant.  The vision that Abram has is very symbolic.  Darkness, smoke, fire, and movement between the animal halves all represent things in the vision.  What do you suppose they are?



Day 3: Genesis 8-11; Flood & Covenant

God is faithful and remembers Noah, though I have to wonder if Noah was beginning to wonder whether or not God was going to help them at all, floating at the top of the world with no end in site for 150 days.  Yet God works and sends a wind to decrease the waters on the earth until they dry up.  When Noah comes out of the ark, he offers a sacrifice to God which we read pleases God.  How unfortunate to be those animals… saved from the flood only to be sacrificed… seems kind of ironic…

Here we see a renewal of the blessing given to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and increase upon the earth.  We also see here the first of many re-commitments and expansions of God’s covenant relationship with humanity.  We saw this with Adam and Eve, that one of her offspring will crush the head of the serpent.  We will see this again with with Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, and David.  God says, ““I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.  While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

It is interesting reading this coming out of a year in which the world was supposed to end at least twice, at least two times that were well publicized.  I posted about this in my personal Blog a while back.  Whenever we are confronted by uncertainty of this sort we need only remember God’s promise in Genesis 8-9 and know that He will be faithful to them.  After all, God is, to date, still 100% on keeping His promises.

The Tower of Babel is an interesting way to end this first section of Genesis.  I’m trying to wrap my mind around how big this tower must have been.  With no modern technology, cranes, or other modern machinery, how tall would they have gotten  it?  Perhaps it wasn’t the height that was the problem as much as the motivation.  People did this as a way of “making a name” for themselves rather than doing it for the glory of God… I wonder if there is some application here regarding our motivations in the things that we do in our lives.  Is the glory of God our motivation?



Day 2: Genesis 4-7; The Flood

It always makes me think when I read some of the genealogies in the Bible, especially this first one, what it would be like to live for 900 or more years.  What would you do with all of that time?  I’m trying right not to conceptualize having kids at the age of 150… or in Noah’s case, at 500 years old.  I can’t imagine my roughly 90 year old grand parents having kids at their age.  Likely it is that people back then didn’t age as we do now as is seen in God’s statement in Genesis 6:4 “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”  Some have also suggested that there most likely wasn’t a great deal of genetic abnormalities and diseases back then either.  In any case, it seems that something changed when God said what He said.

Looking a bit closer at that statement, it also seems like there is some sort of a connection between the presence of God’s Spirit in us and our ability to be alive in general.  The Hebrew word for Spirit is “ruach” (where the ‘ch’ is more of a phlegmy sound) and actually translates to meaning Spirit, Breath, and Wind.  So it would be appropriate to think about the Spirit of God dwelling in us as being related to the “breath of life” that God blows into Adam at the time of creation (Genesis 1-2).  We actually affirm this in the Nicene Creed when we say “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life…”

Taking this to its next logical step then would infer that the Spirit of God, the Breath of Life as it were, is present in all living creatures at all times.  If it wasn’t, they would not be alive.  When I think of this I am in awe of the means by which I exist.  God, through the Holy Spirit is sustaining my every breath, my every movement, me.  This, I think, sometimes creates a conundrum for us: How is it that God, who is Holy and beyond all measure of good and righteousness, can sustain us as sinful creatures?  Wouldn’t this make God at fault for the sin that happens in the world?  I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to fully answer this, however we took a stab at it in one of my theology classes last semester… this is what we came up with:

God is good.  Humanity is sinful, sinning by virtue of the free will that God allowed us to have.  However, in God’s continuing act of creation, which we call providence, they way by which God provides for and governs all life, God sustains all creatures however sinful even if He does not applaud their actions or the results.  God must be sustaining us for if He didn’t we would simply cease to exist as we believe that all creation was created by the will of God.  We believe that God continues to sustain us by virtue of the fact that we continue to exist.

While this seems to circle around the subject, it does make sense… and it is a comfort to us because we know that God is continuing to work in creation.  His work toward the eventual redemption and renewal of creation at the end of time is far beyond our ability to know and understand, but we trust that God is God, His ways are higher than ours… and His ways are good.



Day 1: Genesis 1-3; In the beginning…

So begins our year’s journey through Scripture, and it is fitting to begin and the beginning.

Before there was anything, there was nothing.  It seems like an obvious statement, yet is it something that is hard for our minds to even grasp.  Nothing… the total absence of everything.  For me, nothing is often what I think of when I’m at home with the lights off, the TV off, and no music playing.  Even that is a far cry from the “formless” empty “void” that was before anything.  Total darkness, no air, no gravity, I’d like to say it was cold, but really it was neither cold nor hot, it was nothing.

Except for God.  God was there.  God was always there.  In the chaos that was the nothingness of pre-creation, God existed.  Not only does God exist, He reigns over everything.

It is into this Chaos, darkness, nothingness that God speaks, and we see the true power of God’s word.  With a word, a phrase, God changes everything.  By the mere utterance of God’s voice does light appear with no apparent physical source.  What is more incredible, I think, is that the light doesn’t flash on and then off again, but that the light is sustained and has continued ever since.  This, I think, is one of the true wonders of creation.  Not only did God create everything, God is in the continuous act of creation every second of everyday since then sustaining and upholding all of the created order… even after the Fall!  Humanity falls into evil and all of creation is cursed because of it.  God could have simply wiped it out and started over, yet for whatever reason, God decides to sustain and upholds creation, and has been doing so ever since.  And we see that even in God’s punishment there is a plan, a promise that things would be made right again through the offspring of the woman.  God says, “I will put enmity between [the serpent] and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal.”

This is the first record of the promise of a coming savior, whose birth we celebrated one week ago!  Even then, some 4,000+ years ago, God has a plan for our salvation and the restoration of His creation.



A Note on Translations, Inclusive Language, and the like…

There are a wide variety of translations of the Bible out there for people to read.  At Overisel Reformed Church we have chosen to use the English Standard Version (ESV) translation.  This decision is by no means a condemnation of other translations.  After extensive research into the different translations of the Bible we found this one to be, in our opinion, the most faithful translation to the original texts while also allowing for readability using language that is understandable.  We also found this to be the most faithful in the appropriate use of inclusive language and gender neutral language without losing the meaning of the text or taking away the personal nature of it either.

While the ESV is the version we will be using as we post and reflect on our readings in this blog, we welcome the and thoughts generated from all translations of the Bible.  With each different translation, different things are emphasized and may jump out at you.  We encourage you to share these things and reflect on them in comments that you leave under each day’s posting.  The more discussion we can have around these topics, the more we can learn from each other and grow together as disciples of Christ.

It is also important to note that within the text of the Bible, and across different translations, “inclusive language” has been chosen to make Scripture applicable to both man and women.  While this is an understandable and admirable gesture, it clearly does not apply to all the “He” or “She” words that appear in the Bible.  In the direct translation from the Hebrew and Greek texts there are indeed many words that are used in a gender neutral form.  Yet there are also those that clearly have a specific gender form due to historical tradition.  An example of this would be the references to God has a “He.”  We believe that God is a spirit and is therefore neither male nor female, and yet Scripture consistently refers to God in the male form, a reference that will thus be honored by our postings here.  You are encourages to wrestle with these issues of gender inclusive language in your personal life.  Please know that in this blog there will be no discrimination against any one for the use of, or not using gender inclusive language or different translations of Scripture.

Blessings on your reading!

John 17:17  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.